Pushing the Envelope: Antique Irish Maps Out, Postal Codes In

Antique maps of Ireland are beautiful and might be just as helpful in assisting the modern Irish Post Office to deliver the mail as they might have been in the 1800s.

Postman

Why? Because Ireland today, even with its technology-driven economy, does not use any postal codes. Many parts of rural Ireland don’t use street addresses, and some don’t even use street names. The Wall Street Journal reports that more than a third of Ireland’s official 2.2 million residential addresses refer to more than one household, which makes delivering mail quite a challenge in a country full of Murphys, Kellys, and Callahans.

PostboxThe modern world’s first postal codes seem to have been used in London in 1856, while the U.S. first started to use ZIP codes to help mail delivery in 1943. The U.S. Post Office was forced to use the codes during World War II when new mail carriers, unfamiliar with the neighborhoods, were replacing those carriers who had been sent off to the war. As sorting equipment has become more advanced, ZIP codes have gone from five digits to nine to some as long as 31 digits, which show up as bar codes at the bottom of the envelope.

Now it appears that the last holdout, An Post, Ireland’s postal service, will scrap the antique maps of Ireland, the cheat sheets that some carriers carry with handwritten names of residents on their route, and its private internal code system kept hidden from the public. Next spring, it will roll out its own postal code system. Now, when three Kevin Callahans live in the same County Tipperary town, the post office won’t have to deliver mail first to the one who has been there the longest.

Irish_Routes_Visscher_Map_FramedOf course, there is still nothing quite like physically holding an antique map of Ireland to revel in its charm, color, and detail, all laboriously made by hand. http://www.EverIrishGifts.com has a large selection of stunning reproduction antique Irish maps, in the form of a paperweight, coaster, and good old map, all attractively presented in elegant handmade paper packaging. Browse the selection at http://everirishgifts.com/products/Irish_Maps.aspx.

Stay Ever Irish,
Doug

My Second Best Decision

Well, that should make everything clear

Well, that should make everything clear

This past spring, Laura and I visited several of our suppliers in Wales and England. As the studio of Black Dragon Crafts and the workshop of Abbeyhorn are off the beaten track, we decided to rent a car in London and get the full British experience by driving to our destinations. Doing so was a great idea, but the pleasure of meeting hospitable people and taking in breathtaking countryside vistas quickly was joined by frustrating navigational difficulties. The obvious one—driving on the left side of the road—initially was a challenge, but after a turn or two, we felt like we had been doing it all our lives.

Finding our destination, however, was another issue entirely. Street signs, to the American eye, are incomprehensible, roundabouts are inevitable, and addresses are invisible. Following a map is nearly impossible except for determining a general direction, and following directions given by well-intentioned humans can be just as confusing since one road looks pretty much the same as any other.

Luckily for us, I had decided to purchase a GPS for the journey, and it turned out to be almost the best decision I have ever made. Yes, you can have one included with the rental car for about $20 per day, but since I know we will be visiting at least yearly, added to the fact that I could have it easily shipped to our daughter who was studying in London at the time, the unit was well worth the cash outlay. No more cursing, no more going the wrong way down an unmarked one-way street, and most importantly, no more arguments with my wife over which way to turn. While it was not infallible, the GPS certainly reduced the stress level by about 99 percent.

Through its own special GPS (or satnav, as they call it in the UK) magic, it guided us successfully to Black Dragon, which is literally situated beautifully in the middle of nowhere. Unlike in the U.S., one doesn’t have to enter a street address into a GPS; instead, you enter the postal code, and it knows exactly where to direct you. Brilliant.

As it announced a right turn onto Route A59, I thought I probably could have figured that out myself. Then it said to turn left at the next (unmarked) street. I thought, OK, maybe the GPS was a good investment. But all doubt was erased when it then told us to make a right turn right here, which was onto a dirt path. Really? Oh well, it hadn’t steered us wrong yet, so onto the path we drove. Imagine our excitement—and relief—as we winded about a half mile down the path and around a curve to find, lo and behold, Annie and her Black Dragon studio there before us.

Yes, I exclaimed, buying the GPS was the best decision I have ever made. Laura, although just as happy, gently reminded me that, almost 33 years after asking her to become my wife, it was the second best decision I’d ever made. And you know what? I think she’s right.

Stay Ever Irish,
Doug

What’s in a Name–Welsh Style

Welcome to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch!

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Yes, believe it or not, that is the actual full name of a village we visited during our recent tour of the Welsh countryside. We’d read about the “town with the long name,” and so we made a point of stopping by while touring the island of Anglesey in Wales, just to see it for ourselves. The name of this charming place, also known by its short-form version–Llanfairpwllgwyngyll–literally translates to “St. Mary’s Church in the Hollow of the White Hazel Near to the Rapid Whirlpool of Llantysilio of the Red Cave.” Whew. Weighing in at 58 characters, it is the longest officially recognized place name in the United Kingdom and the second-longest in the world. 

We enjoyed our brief time in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, but we’re pretty glad we don’t have to be able to pronounce it–or to write it out on our return addresses!

Stay Ever Irish (and Welsh),
Laura

Wales Watching

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Doug and I just returned from a very enjoyable and successful buying trip for Ever Irish Gifts, this time visiting England and Wales. We’ve been to England before (and love it), but Wales was a new experience for us. Like the rest of the British Isles, it’s a beautiful country with warm, welcoming residents, but it’s got a personality all its own. Located on the west coast of the Isle of Britain, the entire country is about the size of Massachusetts, and we covered a lot of it on foot and by car, which really is the best way to see and get to know a place.

Here are some of our observations of wonderful Wales.

1. Sheep are practically everywhere. Not in the cities, of course, but as soon as we left the motorways and meandered onto the smaller roads, winding our way from village to village, the landscape was dominated by sheep. Because our trip coincided with the Easter holidays, we had the delightful privilege of seeing all the young spring lambs, frolicking (the only way to describe them) in the fields with their mothers. So adorable, and it never got old.

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SO cute!

2. The country roads are really narrow, and people drive really fast on them. In the villages, the speed limit is generally 30 miles per hour, but as soon as you cross outside the town limits, it jumps to 60 miles per hour. And believe me, people (definitely not us) do drive that fast. Sixty miles per hour on roads that twist and turn, frequently are bordered on both sides by high stone walls, and sometimes barely seem wide enough to fit one car, let alone two. Add the challenge of driving on the “wrong” side of the car and the road and it all adds up to a real adventure–and a few more gray hairs. But hey, that’s part of the experience.

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A two-way road–really??

3. Walking is huge. By walking, I don’t mean strolling-walking. I mean vigorous, get-your-heart-pumping hiking-walking, and Wales is the place to do it. Northern Wales is especially ruggedly beautiful, and the Snowdonia region, which surrounds Mount Snowdon, is the destination for walkers. We spontaneously pulled over by the side of the road to follow a stream of walkers preparing to tackle the hike up to the mountain’s peak (an elevation of 3,560 feet, the highest mountain in England), and while we decided not to attempt the full distance, our outing provided dramatic views of a lovely lake, the snow-capped peak in the distance, and free-roaming sheep (of course).

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Mount Snowdon and me.

4. Welsh is a fascinating language. English is spoken throughout Wales, but Welsh (also known as Cymraeg) is very much alive and well–and absolutely is not a form of English. Schoolchildren learn it as a first or second language, and because the country is officially bilingual, most everything is written in both Welsh and English. Interestingly, when we first crossed the border into Wales from England, signs were in English first and Welsh second, but as we progressed deeper into the country, the order changed. Could we pronounce a word of it? Not a bit, although we tried, much to the gentle amusement of the native Welsh speakers.

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Most definitely NOT an English dialect.

Stay Ever Irish (and Welsh),
Laura

Three Reasons We’re Learning to Hate Winter Just a Little Bit Less

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Living where we live (deep in the Midwest), we’ve pretty much come to dread the months by the names of December, January, February, and sometimes March. And this winter, in particular, has been especially dreadful. Sub-zero temperatures, snow up to our knees, icy winds that could cut right through steel…. Yeah.

However, we’re glass-half-full types, so we’ve decided to take a positive spin on this frigid time of year. No, we’re not learning to love winter. We’re happy just finding ways to hate it a little bit less. We share those reasons with you, below.

1. Sweaters, sweaters, and more sweaters
The warmer, the woolier, the better. Those Irish fishermen’s wives sure knew what they were doing when they picked up their needles to knit the original Aran sweaters. May we suggest some perfectly delightful men’s Irish wool sweaters and women’s Irish wool sweaters to keep you toasty? Take that, Old Man Winter!

2. Irish Coffee
The original Irish coffee was invented in the 1940s for a specific purpose: to warm up travelers arriving at Shannon Airport in the days when a transatlantic flight meant 12 long hours in a lumbering plane. We can travel from the U.S. to Ireland much more quickly these days, but that warming, bracing brew is still what the doctor ordered.

Irish coffee

2 ounces Irish whiskey
4 ounces hot black coffee
1–3 teaspoons brown sugar
1-1/2 ounces cold heavy cream

In a small, prewarmed mug, dissolve the sugar in the coffee. Stir in the whiskey. Slowly pour in the cream over the back of a spoon so the cream forms a distinct layer on top. Don’t stir—sip through the cream. Ahh.

3. Movie Night
It may be blizzarding outside, but there’s (almost) no better way to pass the time when we’re stuck inside than curling up with a good movie. Our friends at Irish Central recommend a few great Irish ones. 

“Waking Ned Devine”
A charming comedy set in a tiny, rural Irish town. When lottery winner Ned Devine is found dead—lottery ticket in hand and all—the townsfolk band together to fool the authorities into thinking Ned is alive, so they can receive the cash and share it.

“Once”
A beautiful, romantic, original musical set in the streets of Dublin. Glen Hansard of The Frames plays a street musician who meets a fellow musician and Czech immigrant (Marketa Irglova). Together they work through pain, the past, and new love through captivating music. Hansard and Irglova won the Oscar for Best Original Song (2007).

“In the Name of the Father”
An Oscar-nominated film based on the real-life experiences of Gerry Conlon, the alleged leader of the Guildford Four. Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Conlon, a Belfast man wrongly imprisoned for the 1974 IRA bombing of a pub in the U.K. Nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, “In the Name of the Father” shows one man’s 15-year struggle for his innocence and for truth.

“The Field”
A story about an Irishman’s love of his land from director Jim Sheridan. Bull McCabe (played by Richard Harris, who was nominated for an Oscar for the role) is a farmer in Ireland’s rural west. When his field is threatened to be sold to an outsider, Bull will do anything in his power to stop it from happening. An unforgettable film about the conflict between “old” and “new” Ireland.

“My Left Foot”
A true story about an Irishman who overcomes his disability to become an amazing painter, poet, and writer. Another film from Jim Sheridan, it documents the extraordinary life of Christy Brown (Daniel Day-Lewis), a working-class Irishman born with crippling cerebral palsy. With the encouragement of his mother, played by Brenda Fricker, Christy learns to write and draw with his only functional limb—his left foot. Both Day-Lewis and Fricker won Academy Awards for their roles.

“The Quiet Man”
A beloved classic starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. This romantic drama from director John Ford tells the story of Sean Thornton, a retired American boxer who relocates to Ireland to reclaim his family’s farm, and Mary Kate Danaher, the fiery Irishwoman he falls in love with. Though its portrayal of Ireland may be a bit outdated, the film is a genuine tribute to Eire, and it’s both an American and Irish favorite.

“The Commitments”
A legendary Irish film about a group of down-and-out Dubliners who form a soul band. Jimmy Rabbitte has dreams of creating the ultimate soul group, and succeeds in bringing together a bunch of talented, eclectic characters. But eventually personalities clash, and the survival of the band is threatened. This adaptation of the Roddy Doyle novel featured a relatively unknown cast at the time, but was welcomed with critical acclaim and a successful box office run.

Stay Ever Irish (and warm!),
Laura

Sweet (and Savory) as Pie

It seems, these days, that every other day is a holiday. Oh sure, there are the biggies, like Christmas, July Fourth, and Thanksgiving, but let’s not forget the other ones, like Groundhog Day, Presidents Day, and National Pie Day. What’s that? Yes, you heard right—National Pie Day, which happens to fall each year on January 23 and has done so since it was established in 1986 by the National Pie Council.

OK, so National Pie Day is an “unofficial” national holiday, but that’s no reason not to celebrate it. I love a good pie more than almost anything (except chocolate chip cookies, but that’s another discussion for another day). So, I thought, what better way to mark this special day than by spending a few moments contemplating the pie.

Did you know, for example, that the first pies appeared around 9500 BC in the Egyptian Neolithic period or New Stone Age? Sometime before 2000 BC, a recipe for chicken pie was written on a tablet in Sumer.  Ancient Greeks are believed to have originated pie pastry, and a first century Roman cookbook mentions pies.

So what has this to do with All Things Irish? Glad you asked. Britain and Ireland have had a love affair with “pyes” since the 12th century that continues today. Think Cornish pasties, steak and kidney pies, and, of course, those unfortunate four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.

We at Ever Irish Gifts are not going to get quite so ambitious today, however. When I think of Irish pies, two immediately come to mind—one savory and one sweet. I’m talking about Irish Shepherd’s Pie and Bailey’s Irish Cream Pie. Could anything sound more delectable than a traditional Irish comfort food and a totally decadent dessert? Could there be a more appropriate way to celebrate National Pie Day, Irish style?

Here is a fabulous recipe for each. Enjoy, and happy Pie Day!

Stay Ever Irish,
Laura

 

Irish Shepherd’s Pie

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Shepherd’s pie is believed to have existed since around 1791, when potatoes became an available, affordable crop to the poor. This dish was a perfect way to stretch leftover roasted meat then, and it’s still a hearty and delicious way to ward off winter’s chill today.

Serves: 4-6

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 lb ground beef or ground lamb (or a combination)
1 large onion, finely diced
3-4 large carrots, finely diced
1 cup frozen peas
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme, finely chopped
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon butter
½ cup red wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 cup chicken stock
1 pound potatoes, cooked and mashed (approx. 6 cups)
1 egg, beaten

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
2. Saute carrots in the olive oil until starting to get tender.
3. Add in the onions and saute for a minute or two then add the meat.
4. Season with black pepper and thyme.
5. Cook until meat is browned then drain fat.
6. Add the butter and peas.
7. Sprinkle with flour and stir well to incorporate.
8. Add tomato paste, wine, and Worcestershire sauce.
9. Let this reduce slightly then add the chicken stock. Allow to reduce down until you have a thick, meaty gravy. Season with salt to taste.
10. Remove from heat. Grease a 9″ x 13″ ovenproof casserole dish and add the meat/gravy mixture.
11. Spoon or pipe the mashed potatoes over top. Brush with egg.
12. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the potato is nicely browned on top.

 

Bailey’s Irish Cream Pie

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Bailey’s Irish Cream liqueur is so creamily sweet and luscious that it could be a dessert all by itself. Add in Oreos, cream cheese, and chocolate and you’ve got heaven on a plate—no baking required!

Serves 8

Ingredients:

28 Oreo cookies
½ stick butter, melted
1 cup milk chocolate chips
1 8-ounce block of cream cheese
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup Bailey’s Irish Cream
1 good-quality chocolate bar, frozen

Instructions:

1. In a food processor, blend Oreos until crushed to a fine crumb. Pour into bowl and mix in ½ stick melted butter. Press mixture into a 9-inch pie dish. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour.

2. To melt the chocolate, place a heat-proof bowl on top of a saucepan filled with about 1 inch of briskly simmering water. The bowl should not touch the water. Add the chocolate chips to the bowl and stir frequently until the chocolate melts. Watch carefully so that the chocolate does not burn or separate. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat cream cheese for 2 minutes. Transfer whipped cream cheese into a clean bowl. In the mixing bowl, whip the heavy cream and ½ cup of Bailey’s until stiff peaks form. Once whipped cream is formed, fold in whipped cream cheese, melted chocolate, and remaining ½ cup of Bailey’s. Pour filling into the prepared pie dish. Cover and chill for at least 4 hours or overnight.

4. Using a vegetable peeler, peel curls of chocolate from the frozen candy bar and use to garnish top of pie.

 

 

Our Irish Driving Trip—Five Things About Driving on the Left to Make Your Visit Right

Somehow we found our way to Kilkenny

Somehow we found our way to Kilkenny

Laura and I visited Ireland in January to attend Showcase Ireland in Dublin, the Irish crafts and products trade show. After finding a number of spectacular new items to add to the Ever Irish Gifts site, we rented a car to travel the Irish countryside and visit the workshop and studios of several of our craftsmen. What a fabulous—and, occasionally, exciting—adventure.

Ireland is truly a majestic country and so worth a visit, but if you decide to tackle it from behind the wheel of your own car, we suggest you keep a few points in mind.

  1.  To my mind, renting a car is the best way to see the countryside. Notice that I said “countryside,” and not Dublin. Dublin is congested, lots of one-way streets, and challenging parking. Walk or take public transportation or a taxi when in the city, and then do as we did, go by taxi to the car rental location, which is preferably is located on the outskirts of town.
  2. Driving on the left side of the road is a bit confusing at first, but you get used to it. Strangely enough, readjusting to driving the right side again once back in the States was actually more difficult for me. My advice, however, is to rent an automatic car. Unless you are very experienced with a manual transmission, operating a stick shift with your other hand, while sitting on the other side of the car and driving on the other side of the street, takes way more concentration and dexterity than you may be prepared to devote. We hadn’t even driven our stick-shift car out of the rental car lot before we changed our minds, hopped out, and went back in to the office to exchange it for an automatic. Yes, it was more expensive, but it was worth every euro to me. Just make sure you indicate your preference when making the reservation.
  3. Rent as small a car as you reasonably can fit into. You will be shocked at how narrow many of the streets are once you get off the main motorways. A number of times, as a vehicle approached from the opposite direction, I would pull as far over to the left as I could, stop, and then just close my eyes and pray as it roared by. Mind you, I may have slowed down, but the other drivers, particularly those in trucks, apparently never even considered applying the brakes. Take my advice and accept the insurance from the car rental agency (and read what is or isn’t covered, because it is different from the policies in the U.S.).
  4. Understand that addresses basically don’t exist in many villages. Street names are difficult to determine since many of the signs are hidden or simply missing. When visiting some of our suppliers, all we had to help us in locating them was a village name, but somehow we managed to find everyone–eventually. If your spouse (like mine) has a difficult time reading a map, save your relationship and get a GPS. Realize, however, that you are most likely going to have to enter the longitude and latitude coordinates, so make sure you know how to do that.
  5. Don’t expect to get anyplace quickly. It always took twice as long for us to travel the same distance as it does over here. Signs are either nonexistent or confusing, roundabouts can be tricky (although you can keep going around in circles while you figure out which road you want to take), and one-way streets as you enter towns can throw you off course easily. So go at a leisurely pace, plan to get lost, and enjoy the scenery and experience. It is worth the drive.

Of course, in the 1700 and 1800s, traveling in Ireland was a lot different, but the maps of those eras were beautiful and awe-inspiring. Check out our selection of brilliant Irish country and county map reproductions. You won’t be making a wrong turn.

Ireland as depicted by Visscher in 1700. 1700!

Ireland as depicted by Visscher in 1700. 1700!

Stay Ever Irish,

Doug